It used to be enough to just take beautiful photographs but I feel a need to create more than that now. I find my mind wandering away from the thing that once possessed me.
In a single day I might edit photos, work on a short film script, research for one of my novels, write a song, create a recipe and think of ideas for workshops. I’ve got piles of notebooks heavy with ink. There are so many passions that distract me now, so much I am aching to do and it brings frustration. That familiar weight of all that I am not doing.
I tell Bee my images are lacking depth. I tell him I’d rather go on adventures with people I love and capture beauty that is authentic. He tells me to call my friend Nicole because we’re going on an adventure.
He drives us out of town to the Lancelin dunes. We’re standing on golden peaks under a bright blue sky and I feel as though I’m on another planet. Bee disappears with his camera and I chase Nicole around with mine. The sand is so soft it floats in the wind. The sun kisses the horizon and Bee kisses me and up there on that glowing peak everything is wonderful.
On the way home Bee tells us this insane tale about the time he was hitchhiking with his best friend. They are picked up by an addict and after realising something is wrong they find a way to escape. They think they are safe until hours later they’re walking by the highway and the man reappears and swerves off the road to hit them. He gets out of his car and chases them through a maze of suburbia, screaming out that he will kill them. Eventually they lose him and follow the shore until morning.
All the while he tells this story Nicole and I are on the edge of our seats. He’s acting out each scene as he drives. I can’t stop watching his face. I’m falling more in love with him every single second. I can feel the fear and adrenaline and the ache of his feet and the manic screaming of the man.
He has a penchant for remembering the little details, like the stale beer smell of the car and the luminescence that trailed behind them as they walked by the edge of the ocean. He’s a storyteller.
I don’t know what to say when he’s done. Nicole says, “that is the best story I have heard in my life,” so I just agree. When we drop her home I walk her inside and she stops and she looks at me and she says, “he’s truly special Nirrimi.”
Earlier in the year I injured my ankle and the trip to the dunes messed it up again. One night we go out for mushroom burgers in Leederville. I’m growing sentimental about the giant murals and the fairylight trees there. But on our walk back to the car my ankle is hurting so badly I can’t take another step. Bee carries me in his arms and all the while I’m laughing because surely I look drunk and he’s saying it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks but he’s laughing about it too.
I’ve done this all before. I’ve believed I’d found the person I’d love forever. I knew I’d never love another again. And yet I do, and yet this is different. No less special than before.
Before Bee, I never knew love could be so good. I thought love had two faces, one kind and one wicked. I accepted the pain with the joy like it was the only way. But now I know. Now he’s taken my hands with his hands, swallowed me up like I’m just a cloud and he’s the great blue sky – and he’s shown me a love that is only good. Not perfect, nothing on earth is perfect, but so deeply and so inherently good.
He is an artist without the chaos. Instead of setting fire to my emotional fuel, he holds my hands and he puts everything into perspective until I don’t feel like shouting or crying any longer. Sometimes I don’t like that. There is a part of me that enjoys feeling more. I wouldn’t live the way I do otherwise.
One day we’re walking along the street and I am already mourning the time we’ll have to spend apart. “I know it’s hard,” he says, “but it’ll make our love stronger and you’ll be on tour with your favourite band, how exciting is that?”
“Stop being so realistic, be dramatic and romantic for once!” I play-shout at him and the strangers around us stare.
But actually, his stability is exactly what I need. What we need.
I’m in Bee’s room and his Mother is here. My hand is around the doorknob but I can’t turn it. I put myself into intimidating situations often but I never feel this paralysed. I pull myself away and whisper, “What are you doing Nirrimi?! It’s not a big deal, just go out there.” And so I hold my breath and I do. She’s beautiful and quiet, her English accent much stronger than Bee’s.
Later she tells him, ”That’s just the kind of girl I can imagine you being with.” I imagine she relates to me. She was a young single Mama and Bee was a toddler when she met Bee’s ‘Dad’.
Alba is back and my friend Erin has invited us to stay in Fremantle with her. She has this beautiful caravan in her garden that we can call home. It’s full of plants, with an oil burner burning and a jar of muesli on the table when we arrive. So much love.
We get dinner in the basement of a Mexican place in town and I watch Bee across the table. His face is lit by the candle burning from a Corona bottle. He looks painfully handsome in this light. His smile kills me.
Alba wanders over to ask one of the waitresses for a plate and me and Bee catch each other’s eyes and grin. In that proud grin I can see that he already loves Alba. He carries her through Fremantle and she nestles her head into his shoulder. We win enough tickets at the arcade for Alba to pick out a prize. Everything feels so good and so right. He drives home and it is just Alba & I, snuggled up in the caravan bed.
The transitions are yet to get easier, they are hard every time. Co-parenting is challenging. I’m thrown from being a 22 year old girl to a Mama overnight. I relearn great patience and selflessness. Alba adjusts to my boundaries. There are moments when I cry, when I am not sure I can do this. Parenting a toddler and working is truly testing. But then, a few days in, it’s natural for both of us again and I wish she never had to go.
We kiss as the plane takes off into the air. Since the day we met we’ve been so in and out of each other’s lives but now Bee and I have two weeks together in Bali. It’s a dream and yet there is this dark cloud above me. I hate it, I hate that I’m surrounded by so much good and I am being moody. I hate being that girl.
This is a side affect of travel for me. I crave change but then when I arrive in a foreign country I get swallowed up in sadness instead. I can think of countless trips overseas where I’ve announced on the first day that I just want to go home. But like everything it passes.
I’m riding through town on the back of Bee’s bike, with my arms wrapped tight around his body. I close my eyes so that the lights of the passing scooters become a throb of flashes through my eyelids. I think, this boy here truly loves and cares about me and that feels like safety.
Most of our trip passes by in a blur of delicious food, little adventures and easy days. We stay in a villa with Kelsey. I ride to a nearby market and buy fresh soursop. I eat it with my eyes closed and grinning, hands sticky and sweet. We sink into a soundscape of geckos, birds, chanting, frogs and roosters. When we ride past the rice fields the landscape is so deeply beautiful it is unreal. Bee pours over maps and plans trips. All is content.
One day Bee falls sick and it shakes me out of the lull of contentedness. He’s trying to tell me he’s okay but his body is burning beneath my hands. When I leave him to get medicine I feel as though I’ve left a piece of myself behind. I tell him stories from my childhood.
“When I was about seven we lived at the bottom of a steep road and when it rained so heavily it flooded rivers would run down our street. There were five of us and we’d make rafts and play games in the water. One day we ran out into the rain and as I ran I noticed a big pocket of air formed in the gutter beneath the rushing water. I told none of my siblings, as though it might destroy the magic. These were the days I deeply believed in mermaids. I watched it for a minute before holding my breath and dunking my head into the pocket. Then, total stillness. I opened my eyes and I found I could breathe. I could hear the dull roar of water but I was not a part of that world any longer. I’d found real magic. I don’t remember how it ended but I won’t ever forget how it felt.”
For three days I’m with him even when I’m not. Then he is better and all day I’m rejoicing before being struck down by this heaviness, as though it was waiting for me. A doom that our relationship won’t last, because of money and different lives. Then I am thinking of Alba and I am crying because I am not with her. Because I’m not the Mama I imagined I would be. I am crippled with guilt. I am crying. I cry so much.
Bee says, “Look at how happy, how bright and how resilient Alba is. Nothing is perfect but she always has your love.” I say, “Love isn’t enough.” And he tells me, “Love is enough for her and love is enough for us.” And I roll over in defiance, in an illogical desire to keep on being miserable but really I know he is right. Everything will be okay.
We take a boat to a little island called Gili Air. We rent bicycles to make our way around. We ride side by side so that we can keep on talking constantly. Sometimes I laugh so much I almost crash. One day I do crash and my knees bleed and Bee washes them and tells me I’m brave like I’m five years old. Sometimes I may as well be.
We eat hot crepes in a shack overlooking the sea, playing round after round of bananagrams. I swear to god up there on the second story of that bamboo crepery – that, there, that is my heaven. The ocean and the sky lays clear and still beyond, waiting for us.
Just children. Eyes wide, bellies full, hearts content. Moments so pure they seem like they don’t belong to reality. Like they shouldn’t exist at all.
Then, my favourite day of all. We wear snorkels and dive into the crystal waters, into another world. The seabed is dense with coral and sea life. We hold hands as we explore, pointing out things we see to one another. We try to kiss but the snorkels get in the way and we burst out of the water laughing. I see a huge colourful fish (burning bright against the blue) like none I’ve ever seen and if I could scream in delight underwater I would!
Beneath the sea I look at Bee’s hand in mine and this foreign, wonderful world and I commit the image to memory. Together we break through a school of fish and they form a moving, living circle around us.
On the sand I trace the water droplets on his skin, connecting them together like a dot-to-dot. We watch little girls playing in the water and talk about how much we miss Alba. We ride our bikes to get dinner and while we’re watching the sun go down I tell Bee I want to cry and when he asks why I say “I never want this day to end”. Fireworks mark our last night on the island.
On our last night together we all go out for gelato and sit together with Kelsey by the sidewalk. We play silly games like choosing a future husband for Kelsey from the men that ride by. I keep switching between bitter sadness and joy. “It’s our last night together Nirrimi Joy,” Bee says gently, “let’s not make it sad.” “Don’t remind me,” I say dramatically.
I keep telling myself over and over that I won’t see Bee for six weeks. That these last minutes are disappearing. I think of how lost and lonely and longing I’ll be without him. I’m holding him, I’m kissing him but I’m not crying. Then the car comes to take him to the airport. I hear it driving over the gravel and I know what that sound means. That sound is the thing that breaks me.
Suddenly I’m on the ground sobbing and Kelsey comes but I push her away. My inner dialogue is misery. I cry for a minute or two before stopping as suddenly as I began. I don’t have to be like this, I think. This isn’t me, I’m not the lost, dependent girl I was before. I’ve grown.
I get my journal and I write myself a letter. A reminder of all the things I love about being alone, a reminder of all the things I have to be grateful for and all of the good things to come. I read it back and I’m okay, I’m smiling.
I can still feel his last hug like he pressed himself into my bones, I can smell him in the bedsheets and his tee shirt lays on the bathroom floor left behind like shed skin. I miss him. I miss Alba. But I have Kelsey. When we’re in bed together at night she says, “How beautiful it is to have someone to miss so much.”